1500 miles left to the Horn

The latest from the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Thursday March 12th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
The past 24 hours have been critical for the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet as the eastern end of the 45°S ice gate approaches and the strategic options for the 1,500 mile dive south-east to Cape Horn at 56°S begin to open up the game. In the 0620 GMT position poll today (12/03), the double-handed division are spread over 83 miles with the Chilean team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos increasing their lead over Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer in second place to 36 miles with the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson battling equipment issues on Team Mowgli 47 miles behind the blue German Class 40. Meanwhile, 59 miles behind Salvesen and Thomson, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty continues to deliver consummate single-handing racing, judging the conditions and his boat perfectly.

Since yesterday morning, Desafio Cabo de Hornos have increased their lead over the German team on Beluga Racer by 23 miles. In many round the world races, this size of gain would be commonplace, but in the tightly-packed and evenly-matched Portimão Global Ocean Race, this 24 hour deficit is increasingly rare. Felipe Cubillos explained the cause late last night: “With the ice gate’s eastern end 150 miles south–east of us, the tactics were vital,” he says. “All our weather information indicated that the westerly breeze was going to shift to the south, so being to windward of the Germans when the shift came was a basic strategy,” Cubillos explains. However, weather models gave conflicting times for the shift and – at the crucial moment - the masthead instruments on Desafio Cabo de Hornos failed: “Unbelievable,” says the Chilean skipper, “and although we could use the second, backup instrument wand, the calibration is not that accurate.”

As stress levels rose, Cubillos chained himself to the nav station: “I admit that I spent two hours glued to the computer screen to judge the right moment to gybe.” Eventually, shortly after 1900 GMT yesterday, the Chileans made their manoeuvre. “There wasn’t much breeze at the time and we also experienced a really confused, sloppy swell left over from the storms over the past few days,” reports Cubillos. “In these conditions the autopilot really can’t cope and we’ve been handsteering constantly.” Currently in 17-20 knot south-westerly breeze, Cubillos and Muñoz are averaging just under 12 knots – two knots faster than the German team - in the sprint to the ice gate waypoint.

On Team Mowgli, 83 miles behind Desafio Cabo de Hornos, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson have focussed on preserving their Class 40 in the gusts and gales, racing with a conservative sail plan, but sailing competitively, furthest south. In addition, their combined skills have recently been channelled into on board problems, particularly with the autopilots: “What is it with boats?” asks Salvesen in exasperation. “The electronics for the pilot have been playing up badly with the system crashing on a number of occasions and it has been very difficult to get to the bottom of the problem,” he explains. After calls to the system’s French manufacturer, a mysterious fix has been achieved: “There seem to be too many interconnected problems to really put our finger on the cause,” explains Salvesen. “Suffice to say that for the last 24 hours, both wind instruments and the pilot have all been working fine - I'm just not entirely sure how we achieved that!”

As is often the case on boats that have been driven hard, unrelated, on board problems cascaded: “We have also had trouble with our engine and charging our batteries,” continues the British skipper. “We have now concluded that one of the alternators has packed up.” With battery charging a vital component, the issue is potentially serious, although Salvesen is optimistic. “At this stage, we are pretty certain we have enough fuel for the longer charging cycles we are going to have to do and this shouldn't, therefore, cause us a problem,” he confirms. “Just something else for the jobs list in Brazil...” The issues haven’t been limited to below decks on Team Mowgli. “The bobstay also chafed through completely during the night before last,” says Salvesen, adding to the issue-inventory. Fortunately, the British duo were not flying a headsail from the bowsprit and major damage was avoided. So, attaching safety harnesses and tethers, the pair hung over the bow to retrieve the line: “We managed to hook the bobstay out of the water and lash it on again at the end of the bowsprit,” confirms Salvesen, “but, again, this took an hour or two.”

With the intensive labour ongoing, Team Mowgli must now reconnect with the leading two Class 40s and ensure that they remain in the same weather system. “Oh, and one of the lazy jack fittings has come off the mast,” adds Salvesen as an afterthought. “We will need to get up there and try to fix that before we next have to gybe over onto port.” Despite the problems, Salvesen and Thomson are pragmatic: “I guess we are putting these boats through some of the most extreme conditions on the planet and things are bound to fail over time with the endless pounding of the waves and the huge strains being put on some of the gear,” he believes. “And there are an awful lot of things to go wrong on a little boat like ours!”

For solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, the strong conditions have been beneficial: “The wind is between 20-25 knots and I’m using the Code 5 with one reef in the main to take some of the load off the autopilot,” reports the Belgian single-hander. After 19 days racing in Leg 3, his Open 40, Roaring Forty, is trailing the double-handed leader by 143 miles. “I hope the wind doesn’t decrease too much as I really want to avoid losing touch with the other boats,” he admitted yesterday. Without a co-skipper for company, Kleinjans is running his own race at his own rhythm: “It’s pretty grey out here with drizzle and squalls, which make for restless nights,” he explains. However, he has discovered an interesting paradox. “It’s strange, the harder it blows, the better I sleep,” says Kleinjans. “This shouldn’t really be the case, but when the breeze is over 30 knots I have to reduce sail, so there is less to go wrong and I don’t lose any speed.” However, with 3,800 miles to the finish line in Ilhabela, Brazil, there are some pressing problems on board for the solo sailor: “The main issue I have is the dwindling supplies of tea and coffee,” he admits. “So, turning the corner at Cape Horn and heading for home can’t come soon enough….”

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